Worrying about Israel’s “moral compass”

Ever since Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Yair Golan warned Israel against becoming “morally corrupt”, and newly-resigned Defence Minister Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon expressed dismay at Israel’s loss of its moral compass, the world has been equally watching us with bated breath, looking for signs of imminent Nazism and racism to appear in Israeli society.

For the BBC of course this was manna from Heaven. BBC Watch reports on the BBC’s “World Have Your Say” radio program where they wondered aloud at this very moral compass that Israel looks set to lose. As you might expect, there was no such pondering about other, much more violent countries:

… However, BBC audiences have not been invited to ponder the question of whether the citizens of Austria (or America, Hungary, France, Switzerland, Finland or Denmark) have lost their moral compass en masse.

That question was posed –literally – in relation to a country which the BBC has long portrayed as ‘lurching’ to the right of the political map – regardless of the inaccuracy of that framing.

The May 20th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘World Have Your Say’ (titled “Has Israel Lost its ‘Moral Compass’?“, from 00:48) based its discussion around the resignation of Israel’s Minister of Defence on the same day and presenter Anu Anand was joined by four telephone interviewees.

Towards the end of the item, as Gregg Roman [Director of the Middle East Forum – Ed.] tried to provide listeners with insights into the Israeli political scene, Anand interrupted and refocused the discussion on the programme’s real topic:

“But can I just move you guys back to the…the….you know, the talk about how Israel is losing its values. I do understand there are heavy politics involved, but perhaps for a global audience…”

The BBC of course is not the only media outlet shedding crocodile tears for Israel’s worrying morality though they are a leading influence. As one reads media articles, social media posts, talkbacks on articles, or watches and hears TV and radio programs, the effect on the average Israeli is suffocating and infuriating.

A golden oldie but as relevant as ever

I am therefore very thankful that I came across Vic Rosenthal’s (aka Abu Yehuda) excellent  two-part series on this very subject which should be required reading for all pro-Israel advocates.

In part I of Adjusting the Moral Compass he describes the origin of this discussion on morality, which was the incident of the IDF soldier Elor Azaria who shot dead an (apparently) incapacitated terrorist after a knife attack. He then places this discussion of morality into a historical context and also locates where Israel sits on the world stage:

On the one side, we have the primarily secular academic, cultural, military, legal and media elites, mostly Ashkenazim whose families have been in Israel for generations, who have become increasingly vocal, even frantic, about what they call ‘undemocratic’, ‘racist’, ‘ultra-nationalist’, ‘fascist’ and ‘theocratic’ trends in society.On the other side – now a majority –  are found many religious Israelis and those of Mizrachi or Soviet origin, who believe that the elites are anti-Zionist, self-hating, bigoted against religious people and ignorant about the true nature of our enemies.

Both sides believe that the other, if not reined in, will destroy the state.

The real issue is the degree to which our moral system should be universal or tribal.

Universalism, the belief that we are obligated to treat all human beings alike regardless of who they are has reached its apogee in Europe and the US, where no crime is more detested than ‘racism’.

Universalist ethics are opposed to tribalism, which prioritizes one’s own tribe, religious group or nation. There was no Enlightenment in the Islamic world, and Middle Eastern cultures are still highly tribalistic; so much so that attempts to create modern states while ignoring ethnic, religious and tribal realities have been (e.g., Syria and Lebanon) spectacular failures.  One way to characterize the moral system of a culture is by where it falls on the universalism-tribalism axis.

Former Israeli Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak tried to force Israel into the mold of a European or American “state of its citizens.” In the name of democracy, the Court opposed attempts to maintain a special status for Jews or Judaism. Foreign interests like the American New Israel Fund and the Union for Reform Judaism, as well as European-financed NGOs support this universalist vision, even to the point of calling for changes in our flag and national anthem because they don’t speak to our Arab citizens.

Of course they don’t. Why should they, in a Jewish state?

The environment is changing and the cultural organism must change too, if it is to adapt to it. In our new environment, a strongly universalist morality is not an advantage; it constitutes unilateral moral disarmament. Our state won’t survive as a copy of the US or Sweden (indeed, the pressures are such that neither the US nor Sweden may survive in their present form).

That doesn’t mean that we need to give up democratic government or adopt all the cultural practices of our neighbors, like their misogyny, religious coercion, or beheadings and barrel bombs. It doesn’t imply that we ought to view ourselves as superior to non-Jews or that we should deny non-Jews that live among us their civil rights.

What it does mean is that our objective should be a state that unashamedly prioritizes Jewish people, culture, religion and values.

In Part II Vic speaks of the consequences of moral equivalence, of applying a universalist belief to an area where tribalism rules:

The psychological consequences of our European-style ‘fairness’ on our tribal enemies are also counterproductive. They understand our ‘goodness’ as weakness, and take maximum advantage of it. It does not make them admire us or wish for peace; rather, it generates contempt and encourages them to continue using violent tactics.

What is true of our rules for warfare and counterterrorism also applies to our public diplomacy and other areas. Our leaders express an understanding of the supposed Palestinian need for a state and desire to sit down with them and negotiate a peace deal, while the Arabs publish maps on which Israel does not appear and educate their children to love martyrdom above all. We provide surgery in our best hospitals to the relatives of leaders of Hamas and the PLO, while they encourage their people to pick up a knife and stab a Jew.

One of the implications of a universalist morality is that there is no such thing as an enemy in the traditional sense. If anyone should be considered an enemy it would be the leaders of Hamas and the PLO; yet our doctors save the lives of their relatives. In this view even terrorists have rights, and the people of Gaza and the Arabs of Judea and Samaria shouldn’t be punished collectively for what their leaders do. After all, everyone is an individual and everyone has human rights.

Israelis have taken this European approach even further. Because of our (historically inappropriate) guilt complex toward the Palestinians, we might say that “everyone has human rights especially the Palestinians.”

But what if we realign our moral system to see the conflict in tribal terms?

This is war and the Palestinians are the enemy. Who speaks like this in Israel today?

You don’t supply water, electricity, food and cement to an enemy population, especially one which has no desire to overthrow its leadership. And the Palestinians, both in Gaza and Judea/Samaria have defined themselves as an enemy, by their choice of leaders, by what they teach in their schools and say in their official and social media, and in their popular support and enthusiastic participation in terrorism against Jews.

Collective punishment? Of course they should be punished collectively, because their guilt as an aggressor is collective.

Now before anyone gets outraged at the politically incorrect but (in my opinion) morally correct assertiveness expressed by Vic Rosenthal, let us just remind ourselves of a very similar instance that happened just last week – in New York. A knife-wielding man was shot dead – and guess what? There was no UN resolution or condemnation of New York cops, there were no editorials or programs on the BBC expressing hypocritical concern at the morality of the US. It was taken as a given that an armed man will be shot dead. As the Algemeiner reports on the “disproportionate response to the New York attacker“:

“Knife-wielding man shot dead in midtown Manhattan” was the headline making the rounds on the Internet last week. The man with the knife had not shouted “Allahu Akbar,” nor was he attempting to commit a terror attack. He was simply an apparently inebriated individual, identified as Gary Conrad, who went into a Food Emporium, where he allegedly became “aggressive and belligerent.”

According to NYPD Chief of Department James O’Neill, “He was swearing at the people in the store, swearing at the workers in the store.” Swearing, imagine that. What a lethal menace!

A police officer called to the scene began struggling with Conrad, who pulled out a knife. Police officers ordered him to drop the knife, but he continued to approach them with the knife in his hand. At that point, O’Neill said, an officer and a sergeant opened fire on Conrad.

They did not shoot him once. They did not merely aim to neutralize him by shooting him in the legs or his arms. They shot him an incredible nine times. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Had this taken place in Israel, and had this man not been called Gary Conrad, but Mohammed, and had he not been merely an inebriated loon but a terrorist out to slash Jews, international outrage would have poured forth in torrents from the front page of every single news outlet and the mouth of every opinion maker worth his salt. The “disproportionate force” claim would have been thrown about and every self-respecting journalist would have asked why Israel had to kill the man — shooting him no fewer than nine times — instead of simply neutralizing him by shooting him in the legs or the arms and then taking him to hospital.

So far, not a single news report has questioned the judgment of the NYPD. No American liberal has come forth in self-righteous indignation, asking whether killing this man, who, after all, was not threatening to blow up the Food Emporium or stab anyone, may have been slightly on the disproportionate side.

Let us stop beating ourselves about the head and bewailing our loss or lack of morality, and instead we should be proud of just how well Israel and Israelis comport themselves while under the most extreme threat of constant attack and annihilation. We compare well not just in comparison to our degenerate neighbours, but compared to every Western country on earth.

Of course there is always room for improvement, and we cannot sit back and think we are saints, but nevertheless we have much to be proud of in our democracy, our enlightenment and yes, our morality.

Update: Lawrence in the comments provides us with another excellent link: Why some Jews are afraid of their inner-Nazi. It expresses similar sentiments to Abu Yehuda in a more concise manner. Go and read!

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9 Responses to Worrying about Israel’s “moral compass”

  1. Lawrence says:

    Yes Rosenthal gets to the heart of the matter. I also recommend Yishai Fleisher’s article on this same disgusting self-flagellation from Golan. Fleisher speaks of the fear of the Inner Nazi among these idiot Leftists. http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/yishai-fleisher/why-some-jews-are-afraid-of-an-inner-nazi/2016/05/05/

  2. Reality says:

    I get so sick of all these “we are losing our moral compass,we used to be a light unto the nations” moaners! We have definitely not lost our moral compass, but some in the higher echelons are beginning to behave like their European counterparts,and in the end are so determined to put the terrorists needs first,to the point that to our nations’ disgust, there have been instructions for doctors to deal with the most badly injured EVEN IF THAT INCLUDES THE TERRORIST, before treating the victims.This has I think been rescinded, but it shows that some are prepared to overlook the terrorist activity in order to show the world how “fair” we are.This is plain stupidity, not fairness ,and can cause even greater “moral damage”. In England,everyone stood around in shock as a soldier was hacked to death, without responding. That’s called morality? Fairness? or idiocy?

    He who is kind to the evil, will eventually be evil to the kind,to quote our elders.

    • anneinpt says:

      Excellent comment. As you say, some of our “moral worriers” for lack of a better term are so open minded their brains have fallen out. When you’re in a battle of good versus evil, black vs. white, you can’t start to see the other side or the validity of their argument, otherwise you might as well surrender or commit suicide. Liberals and well-meaners often can’t understand that that this IS a zero-sum game, we can’t “all be winners”; we are in a battle to the death, literally. And we have no intention of losing.

  3. Brian Goldfarb says:

    Hmmm…without direct quotes from him, it is difficult to know exactly what Ya’alon meant by his comment about “Israel losing its moral compass”. However, given that he is (as I understand from various media comments) a Jabotinsky Revisionist Zionist, I would guess that he is hardly agreeing with the “bleeding hearts” on the liberal left. Further, I would agree that anyone coming at me with a knife or similar in their hand and hate on their face should be stopped by any means possible – assuming that I hadn’t done anything to create the immediate situation (i.e., I was a random target of a terrorist or other criminal attack).

    This suggests that he resigned from government and Knesset on other grounds. I suspect that, as a former career member of the IDF, he has a particular view of what this “moral compass” should be. It has long been noted (most notably by the likes of Lt, Col. (Retd.) Richard Kemp) that the Israeli armed forces make strenuous efforts to avoid killing civilian bystanders, far more strenuous than (virtually) any other army in the contemporary world. Thus, during Protective Edge in 2014, the real civilian to military ration of dead was 1:1, whereas in all other theatres of war it is, at best, 3:1, civilian to military.

    And I take Ya’alon to be saying that this is a ratio and outcome to be proud of, and that Israelis should not fall into the trap of supporting the view imputed to Avigdor Lieberman (and I remain to be convinced that he actually made those comments regarding Palestinians, apart from his comments on the death penalty). Israel is a parliamentary democracy, seeking to put into practice Jewish ethics, which includes a belief in universal human rights. Israel supports equal rights to citizens of all and no faiths; it offers sanctuary to gays, etc, from Palestine and further afield – because they are human beings and deserve to exercise their human rights: up to but not beyond the point where they infringe on the human rights of others.

    Israel is a Jewish state, like its neighbours are Muslim states and Europe is, for the time being, a set of Christian states, and so forth. And if the rest of the world doesn’t like that, then it can go hang.

    But this doesn’t give Israel and Israelis licence to lose their collective moral compass. As the slogan on a t-shirt I saw in the “newseum” (a museum of the world of print journalism) in Washington DC said “freedom of speech is not a licence to be stupid” (boy, I wish I’d bought that shirt!).

    You may recall that a few weeks ago, there was a post (in part) and comments here about a debate between Simon Schama and a colleague and Nigel Farage and a colleague on the question of refugees fleeing war zones in the Middle East towards Europe. The report stated that Schama “lost” the debate. What actually happened, on the report, was that his side won the debate but by a smaller margin that it had had on a straw poll before the debate took place. Commenters said this meant he lost. Funny definition of losing. On that basis, Netanyahu “lost” the last election because his majority is now 1, where before it was greater.

    I argued then, also, that those who decried Schama’s defence of Europe taking in refugees had lost their moral compass, because they were forgetting that not 70+ years earlier, the world turned its back on the desperate plight of the Jews of Europe. How could we, as Jews, now do the same to these people? I added, as a rider, that didn’t exclude making strenuous efforts to keep out terrorists from this group.

    And I think that this is exactly the sort of thing that Ya’alon had in mind in making his compass on Israel’s moral compass.

    And it reflects well on his interpretation of Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionism.

    And what other jurisdiction would put on trial, in a civilian court, a soldier accused of killing an unarmed criminal/terrorist? None, is my guess. There would have been a military court martial which would, most likely, sought strenuously to find grounds for an acquittal or, at worst, a slap on the wrist with a feather.

    And that is one of the many glories of Israel.

    • anneinpt says:

      I take your point Brian, and even largely agree with it. The trouble with both Yaalon and Golan is the terminology they used and the forums they spoke it. They’ve GOT to know that using such loaded terms, even in the best of Israel’s interests (which I am sure they have) would give ammunition to the antisemites who wait in the wings breathlessly for exactly such words, which they can then turn around and use in condemnation of Israel. And if they didn’t know they have a serious hole in their education on foreign affairs and international relations.

      If they have such doubts about Israel’s morals they should have spoken up in a private or secure forum and not in public. Particularly Golan should NOT have used Yom Hashoah of all days to make such disgraceful analogies.

      As for Yaalon, I think his resignation was more likely because he was offended by Netanyahu’s underhanded move to bring in Liberman than by any upset at Israel’s morals. He has made remarks about Israel’s morality or behaviour before but never showed any wish to resign.

      Israeli politics are horrible.

      • Brian Goldfarb says:

        Anne, whatever anyone says in explanation of Israel and/or Jews is going to be twisted: we’ve had examples here (and on Engage) from the likes of Philip Blue doing exactly that.

        I guarantee that the first time Lieberman says anything more than “Good Morning” (and even when he says just that), someone, somewhere is going to twist it into a smear against the Israeli Government.

        When you can’t win, ignore the antis, or keep plugging away at them so that they can’t get the last word in.

        And those who wish the worst for us will continue to do so, even if Israel does nothing wrong in anyone’s eyes.

        Which doesn’t mean that Ya’alon and Golan shouldn’t, if necessary, be called out, and should those from any part of the political spectrum. It’s what democracy is all about anyway.

  4. Pingback: The Elor Azaria case and the implications for the IDF | Anne's Opinions

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